Scientists looking for evidence of bowel involvement in cognitive and mood problems related to chemotherapy treatment are testing their theories with the help of an unpleasant rodent habit: eating feces.
Because chemotherapy is very hard for the digestive system and causes diarrhea, nausea and anorexia, Ohio State University researchers are exploring the potential role of the intestine in the “mental fog” phenomenon known as brain chemotherapy.
To test the possible relationship, Pyter’s laboratory is examining the effects of chemotherapy in mice whose guts have been manipulated before treatment. An experiment involves feeding mice with antibiotics. The other is based on coprophagy, the universal practice among mice eating their own feces and that of their peers. Indeed, mice undergo something similar to fecal microbial transplants.
In a new study, Pyter found that the housing of mice that received chemotherapy with untreated mice showed clear signs of changes in all animal’s intestinal bacteria. Mice who received chemotherapy lost less weight if they had been housed with untreated mice, which means that eating mouse feces without chemotherapy changed their intestinal bacteria and partially reversed at least one side effect of chemotherapy.
Although some solutions are likely to be lacking for years, the goal of the research is to identify possible ways to help defend against cognitive problems and anxiety after chemotherapy.
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